Guidelines in creating (and updating) a model’s portfolio

[Note: This entry has been updated. Thank you.]


If someone tells you that your portfolio is perfect, don’t believe it. There is no such thing as a perfect model’s portfolio. At any point in time, there is only the best possible portfolio, which you can still make better over time, that showcases your looks, experiences and abilities for a perticular modeling genre. It is the kind that can help you sell.

Here are some ideas that you may might find helpful in putting together a professional-portfolio for the first time, or, even when updating your existing book:

PACKAGING – In an industry that is obsessed with aesthetics, the “packaging” of your portfolio must look professional. Get a professional-looking case, usually with black leather covers, that projects a professional image. You can buy it yourself from a store like Models Mart in New York, order online, or, ask someone you know to get one for you (if you happen to have no direct access). A great portfolio case is a small investment that can showcase your images in a favorable and professional manner.

SIZE – According to several models, photographers, and modeling agents from various agencies that I’ve talked to, the preferred photo size for a model’s book is 9×12 inches that will fit nicely into 9.5×12.5 sleeves. Some people refer to this as the New York book. Some agencies have “walk around” books with photos printed in 6×9 and 5×7, but the main book is 9×12. Big photos, such as those in 11×14-inch or 16×20-inch sizes are good, and can even be impressive, but may end up being too bulky to carry around and present.

NUMBER – The number of pictures you put in a book largely depend on the number of great shots that you have. It could probably be anywhere from 12 pictures or less, and maybe even 40 photographs or more. Having at least two great shots in your book, whatever number of pictures you compile, will be important. You might want to consider that presenting too few images might be misconstrued as lacking in modeling experience while having too many images can be unweildy. Present as many great photos as you can, but remember that you don’t show is just as important as what you show. And, as people in the industry say, your portfolio is only as good as your worst shot. So, even beyond the number of images to consider, look at and aim to build a collection of strong and compelling images.

THEMES – The real purpose of a model’s portfolio is to showcase, within your genre, a range of looks, your experiences, as well as ability and talent as a model. In your book, therefore, it is not enough that you show changes of outfits, but, you should primarily show a variety of images with different photographic styles, settings, hair and makeup, and looks within your scope. Possibly, the more variety within a certain range, the better. A portfolio is a collection of images that presents the many different looks that you can project as a model within a range, one that you can do, within many possible photographic studio and location shots. If your aim is to target several modeling genres, you may want to create multiple books organized and arranged according to these genres.

ORGANIZATION – The sequence of presenting photographs should be in proper order. Your book begins with a clean and simple head-and-shoulder image. This is usually a well-lit image taken in a studio. It is your identity shot, a representation of your real identity that shows the most beautiful you. After that, you can show various images within your genre. Images of location shoots may be interspersed with studio shots, and also with photos from several actual works done within that genre. The important thing is to tell a story that imparts a single message: you are right model that the client is looking for.

VARIETY – Variety and individuality of each image within your range is key. One way to achieve this is by working with different photographers, hair-and-makeup artists, stylists, designers. Each photograph must show something different, or reveal another facet of you as a model that’s within your range. Though it is a hard and tedious process, ruthlessly edit out images that may be repetitive. In the end, select only the most compelling and most powerful images.

CONSISTENCY – Photographs in a portfolio must appear consistent: same size, same dimension, same print style, same everything. Throwing in images of various sizes and types might result in an unattractive visual array. When you are preparing more than one copy of your portfolio, tearsheets, prints, clippings, snapshots, articles, and cut-outs must be reproduced and presented uniformly. Create a standardized copy of each image in a standardized portfolio print while compiling the originals, particularly tearsheets. The “sameness” of prints, page after page, shows how well you have organized your book. Reproducing photos and materials is nowadays quite easy and affordable. As a proof, bring with you a compilation of the actual tearsheets of advertising and editorial work, the gold standard in modeling work. That will reinforce your presentation.

PRESENTATION – When making a personal presentation, let the images speak for themselves. You can bring up bits of information about the shoot when asked, but keep your answers brief and to the point. Avoid the tendency to talk at length or in detail, but share just enough to give the onlooker the information needed.

UPDATED – Coming up with a good portfolio is just the first step. Keeping it updated and relevant is another. Your portfolio should always look fresh, new and exciting. Every so often, you should add new photos and replace the old ones. This process of planting new images into your portfolio, and weeding out the old ones, should be done constantly. In time, and as you gain experience, you should be able to add more images from tearsheets. Many, if not most professional models, maintain an updated portfolio. It’s a never-ending process. It is a sales tool.

QUANTITY – You can begin or just keep and maintain a single copy of your portfolio, which you can bring and show around. In time, you might feel the need to create duplicates so you can circulate your book to more people. If you have representation, your agent or agency might also feel the need to prepare 3 or more copies of your portfolio. By having several copies, although not necessary, it is possible to maximize exposure for some models to show around to people who might want or need to see it, thereby increasing the chances of being booked for modeling assignments. In time, and as you become successful in your modeling career, you or your agency may even no longer find the need to maintain a portfolio.

CARDS – You cannot leave your portfolio behind. Or, when your portfolios are in circulation, it is understood that it will be returned to you or you should get it back, normally, within a week or so. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t leave anything behind. For the industry insiders who have seen your portfolio, one way to make you more memorable to them is to prepare a comp card or zed card that you can freely give away. Your comp card, usually in size 5.5×8.5 inches, shows a head shot of you in the front, and a composite representation of your best 4 or 5 images at the back. It also includes your measurements and contact details. Some models, instead of a comp card, they might opt to leave behind a small photo book instead. Or, at the least, leave a business card.

MORE – In this day and age, the Internet is a good way to showcase your portfolio. One way to do it is through, now one of the most popular portals for models. Having an online portfolio is an efficient way of showcasing your works and talents and potentials as a model. Plus, it can serve as an instant reference or resource about you and your work. Take the time to create a simple online portfolio that you can easily and quickly update with photos, measurements and contact details. In case you need to show your photos right away, you can just point them to your online portfolio.

Of course, while no one can say for certain that having an excellent portfolio is a guarantee for success, many will agree that it is something that can be helpful in getting signed up for modeling assignments, specially when you are just starting. But not all models need a portfolio. For a lot of models however, it may be necessary to have one; and perhaps, it can serve as an important tool in gaining competitive advantage. A portfolio, therefore, can be the beginning, as well as possibly sustain, a successful modeling career.

[Note: Dominique James is a fashion and portrait photographer. View his profile and models portfolio online at For more information, please call +1-912-246-1131, send email to, or go to his blog at Dominique James is a Nikon Pro Photographer, an Apple Certified Professional and Trainer, and an Epson Stylus Pro Photographer. He is currently based in New York.]


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